When I think about Josh Groban, the first thing that comes to my mind is “I loved Josh Groban before anyone knew who he was”. The first time I heard him, I was driving in the car. It was a few months after his CD was first released in late 2001. The very first notes I heard him sing brought me to tears. I could not believe that such a voice existed. I went to my local CD store in those next few moments, purchased the CD, and listened to it non-stop for about a year, I think. And I listened until I could sing along with every song, whether in English or Italian.
Groban is a baritone. Even though I’m not a great singer, I am a baritone as well. I don’t recall ever hearing a “pop” singer, or a “classical” singer (let alone a cross-over) with a baritone voice. It’s always been tenor, tenor, tenor. So for me, it was great to be able to sing in my natural range. With David Foster behind that first album, and Josh’s baritone voice, and the choices of contemporary classical music mixed with pop, it was a winner. And I sang along.
And sing I did. I was obsessed. Not only did I learn the lyrics in Italian, I didn’t want to just mimic the sounds, I wanted to learn the language. So I would translate the songs myself from Italian to English and back. I bought CD’s and books to learn more Italian and eventually got Rosetta Stone to learn even more Italian. While I never became fluent, because I didn’t have anyone with whom to converse in Italian for practice, I learned what I could of the Italian language all because of Josh Groban.
The follow up CD’s (“Closer” and “Awake” as well as the live concert CD) all proved that Groban had staying power. The music was always whole. It was well-produced, evocative, sensual, emotional, and chock full of talent and good choices.
When I saw Josh in concert at a relatively small venue in Portland, Maine, it was the kind of moment in a life when you can say “I can die happy now”. I finally saw my inspiration, my hero, and the man who got me through some very difficult times in my life, in person.
Along the way, I knew that Josh Groban was involved in his own music. He wrote music, or at least collaborated, and lyrics as well.
The last CD that Josh released prior to “Illuminations” was his Christmas CD. Many artists become disappointing when they attempt “the Christmas CD” but Josh Groban was in his element. The CD was again, well-produced and the CD was a home run. That was 3 years ago in 2007. Josh is not the kind of artist who pumps out CDs. He takes his time and chooses carefully what he is going to release in a collection. So the long wait for “Illuminations” was painful.
But not as painful as listening to Illuminations. I think every artist at Josh’s level produces a dog album at some point. Even Streisand had a few real dogs in her massive catalog of albums. But I was surprised that it happened to Josh this early on in his career. It’s been about 10 years, give or take, since he has become famous. He’s now a household name and known around the world as a superstar. From the liner notes of “Illuminations” I saw that Josh wrote most of the music and lyrics himself.
The first run through of the CD was shocking to me. The music sounded disorganized, rushed, and messy. The lyrics were redundant, boring, and predictable. Although this was all original music and lyrics, it did not have a fresh feeling. After listening through the entire CD twice, there wasn’t one song that stood out, not one I liked, not one melody that was memorable. And after my love affair with Josh’s voice and music, I was astounded that he let this happen. Did he not have a sounding board? And above all, most of the songs were in (god forbid) ENGLISH!!!!.
Did anyone have the balls to tell Josh Groban that they didn’t like what they heard? He doesn’t seem the type to be a “music brat”. The kind of artist that can’t accept criticism. The kind of artist that is so headstrong and conceited that they don’t believe they can do wrong. But, then again, I don’t know Josh Groban personally. You never know.
Within 24 hours of purchasing “Illuminations” I was trying to figure out if I could return it somehow (you can’t really do that with music unless there is something wrong with the CD and even then they’ll just give you a replacement). I spent a lot of time trying to think of who I could unload this piece of junk on. It was that bad. I didn’t even want to have it in my possession. I wanted it out of sight and I wanted to forget the whole thing. My intention is to just move on, pretend he never released this thing, stick my head in the sand, and wait for the next CD. Hopefully, he will have come to his senses and reassess the direction of his music.
I certainly give him credit for trying. If I had even a tiny bit of talent for writing music and/or lyrics, I would do it. I don’t know if I could accept the fact that I’m nott as good as I thought I was. It would be devastating for me. And this might be for Josh Groban.
There are a LOT of Josh Groban fans out there, obviously. I’m sure many ran out and bought his CD or downloaded it from iTunes the moment it was released. And I’m betting many of these fans feel the same way I do about “Illuminations” but are having a hard time thinking these evil thoughts about Josh’s music. But take it one step at a time. The first step is admitting that “Illuminations” sucks.
It’s not that we don’t still love Josh Groban. But we can’t sit idly by and ignore the fact that “Illuminations” is a dark day in the Groban repertoire.
P.S. – If anyone out there wants the “Illuminations” CD, let me know. I’ll gladly send it to you for free, including postage.